Trust More to Stress Less

When they wrote to Paul, they were struggling. Euodia and Syntyche could not see the issue more differently, and their disagreement was splitting the community. We don’t know what they disagreed about, and Paul doesn’t offer to settle the argument. Instead, he encourages them to agree in the Lord and calls for the other leaders in the church to help them get along.

Paul’s instructions to the Phillippians has become one of many Christian’s favorite verse of Scripture: “Rejoice in the Lord always,” writes Paul, “again I will say, Rejoice!” The word we translate “Rejoice!” doesn’t mean be to be joyful in spirit in a personal, individual way – it means throw a festival. Paul is instructing the church at Philippi to put on a community-wide public celebration of the Lord that displays the graciousness and the gentleness of the Christian community.

Can you imagine their response as they read Paul’s letter? Euodia and Syntyche cannot get along, and the church is getting dragged through, bogged down, and divided up by the fight. They’ve written to Paul to settle the argument, and when the letter came, it opened with typical greetings, it went on to give encouragement to conform to the example of Christ in humility and obedience, Paul says he hopes to send Timothy to visit. They must have started wondering if he was going to answer their letter or not by the time he finally addresses the argument between Euodia and Syntyche in the last remarks before the closing.

“I entreat you to agree in the Lord.” What? They don’t agree. This issue, whatever it is, is important; they wouldn’t have written to Paul in prison about it if it weren’t. Both women firmly believe they are right, and a good many folks in the church on both sides agree with them.

Surely they expected Paul to say something else, something like Euodia and her followers are right. Or Syntyche and her followers are right. Or, you are both wrong and here is a better way. But, he doesn’t say ANYTHING about the disagreement.

Instead, he says, throw a festival, no really, you heard me right, throw a festival and let everyone in Phillipi see that you are gentle and gracious people. They have been anything but gentle and gracious up to this point, I imagine. So here, Paul reminds them that their focus is to be on God.

There’s a preacher story – and I usually stay away from telling preacher stories because they really are a genre not dissimilar to chain emails – but this one does a terrific job illustrating how important perspective is. It is a letter from a college student to her parents.

Dear Mom and Dad, (she writes)
I have so much to tell you. Because of the fire in my dorm set off by the student riots, I experienced temporary lung damage and had to go to the hospital. While I was there, I fell in love with an orderly, and we have moved in together. I dropped out of school when I found out I was pregnant, and he got fired because of his drinking, so we’re going to move to Alaska, where we might get married after the birth of the baby.
Your loving daughter
P.S. None of that really happened, but I did flunk my chemistry class, and I wanted you to keep it in perspective.

Paul’s response to the church at Philippi is that they are writing to him about an argument that is on the scale of a chemistry test and neglecting the bigger picture, Jesus the Christ. The Lord is near – this is life-changing! This means there is no reason to worry anymore. In fact, the more you trust God, the less worry has space in your life.

Henri Nouwen, who is known for his spiritual writings, was a priest and also studied psychology. He wrote about worry, “Since we are always preparing for eventualities [always getting ourselves ready for what may happen], we seldom fully trust the moment. It is no exaggeration to say that much human energy is invested in these fearful preoccupations. Our individual as well as communal lives are so deeply molded by our worries about tomorrow that today can hardly be experienced.”

But living in an anxious state is hardly a new thing. N.T. Wright points out that “Anxiety was a way of life for many in the ancient pagan world. With so many gods and goddesses, all of them potentially out to get you for some offence you mightn’t even know about, you never knew whether something bad was waiting for you just round the corner. With the God who had now revealed himself in Jesus, there was no guarantee…against suffering, but there was certainty that this God was ultimately in control and that he would always hear and answer prayers on any topic….If it matters to you, it matters to God.”

And God’s peace – not a denial of the gravity of the situation, not a flippant dismissal – God’s deep peace will become militant for you. Literally, Paul wrote that God’s peace will be like a military sentry, standing guard, guarding your heart and your mind, to keep them focused on Christ Jesus.

Stress caused by anxiety and worry is an obstacle to living in grace and gratitude.

Have you ever felt like you were a hamster on the wheel of life? “Get up, hurry…get a few things done…rush to work…mentally kick yourself for not getting a breakfast bar on your way out the door…no way you are making it to lunch without food…go get another cup of coffee…answer email, grab the packet for the meeting this morning…should have read through these…wish you had time to stop in the restroom…continue…continue…leave work late…glance around your office and wonder what you can grab to get done before you come back…rush out the door…stop at the grocery…nothing looks good…except that bag of powdered donuts…too tired to cook…grab a rotisserie chicken and some Hawaiian rolls…eat the Hawaiian rolls on the way home…realize you didn’t take care of that one thing your boss said he had to have today…shake your head and roll your eyes…go home…call people to dinner…throw a load in the washer…ask about homework…run taxi service to practices…respond to email from boss…sit down in front of screen and stare blankly…fall asleep…wake up at 2 am unable to stop the chattering of the hamster coach, “You have so much to do…you’ll never get it all done…you’ve even forgotten some of it…you don’t remember, do you…better get up…move the laundry over…go ahead and make the lunches…there won’t be any more time in today than yesterday if you don’t get up now…you have 20 emails you haven’t even read yet…some may have come in even after you went to sleep…” Is any of that familiar?
Or, maybe your hamster wheel of stress caused by anxiety and worry is about your health, or the health of someone you love, or about safety, or about the future, or about job security or financial security, or about your marriage, or your parents, or a friend…it’s not like you can just stop thinking, right? So, how do you trust more and stress less?

Start by making a list of your worries. This is not a list that you share, so be honest. Put pen to paper, then look it over and see if there are any themes. What is the root of your worries? Just sit with that question…what is the root of your worries.

Then divide your list into two categories: things you can do something about and things that are not under your control.

The things on the list of things you can do something about… choose the ones that matter the most to you and make a plan to do something about them…not to fix them completely, but to start. Take a baby step, and then another, your first step may be to meet with someone who can help you figure out what the best first step is! …and when the worry creeps back in, remind yourself that you are doing something to change the situation.

But what about the things you cannot control? In everything, by prayer and earnestly asking, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. “Thank you, God, for my health, give me strength to handle any challenges that may come.” “Thank you, God, for my children, give me wisdom as parenting challenges come.” “Thank you, God, for [whatever your worry is about], give me [whatever you need to face the challenges you fear may come].”

God’s peace is standing sentry to guard you day and night. Thanks be to God. Amen.